In the red corner, Cassandro the transvestite ... - This Britain - UK - The Independent

In the red corner, Cassandro the transvestite ...

Stars of Mexico's 'lucha libre' bring their kitsch form of wrestling to Britain

In a wrestling ring under a set of train tracks in London’s Bethnal Green, a transvestite has a midget wearing a wolverine mask in a painful looking headlock. Pressed into the corner of the ring, the midget struggles his way up to the third rope in an unsuccessful bid to escape. Instead he is slammed into the floor below with a sickening crunch.

Welcome to the world of “lucha libre”, Mexico’s staggeringly bizarre form of wrestling which has crossed the Atlantic and this weekend will entertain thousands of fans in a series of five matches in north London.

The ring in Bethnal Green where “Cassandra” the transvestite, and his smaller opponent “Lubito”, are fighting is temporary - a place where the 16 Mexican wrestlers who arrived earlier this week can relax and spa. The real entertaining will take place at the Camden Roundhouse.

For four nights from this Saturday a steady stream of masked men will flip, slam, pummel and hurl each other into carefully choreographed oblivion, much to the delight of lucha fans who flock to matches for the death defying acrobatic moves the wrestlers employ, and the pantomime storylines that dominate each bout. There is even a Sunday matinee for the kids.

“Lucha libre is like a religion in Mexico,” said Cassandra, one of the few luchadores who chooses not to wear a mask and instead opts for a brown and gold leotard and makeup instead. “When I was a child, my family and I would go to church on Sunday morning and then head to down to the nearest lucha ring. The wrestlers were our heroes.”

To say that Mexico lives and breathes lucha would be something of an understatement. It might seem like a freak show, but it is the second most popular sport after football and wrestlers are venerated as living legends, comparable perhaps only to the near god-like regard India reserves for its Bollywood stars.

But in recent years lucha has begun rapidly winning over new fans outside of Mexico, none more so than in Britain which is undergoing something of a wrestling renaissance.

Where once wrestlers were thought of as a bygone mullet-ridden phenomenon of the 1980s, major American leagues such as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and the controversially brutal Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) are now able to sell out huge arenas like the O2 in a matter of days.

The British promoters of lucha libre hope similar numbers of fans will begin flocking to the Mexican equivalent.

“This is the second time lucha has come to Britain and we’re already drawing up plans to have it return early next year,” said Andy Wood, the London club promoter who organised this weekend’s fight alongside Bolivian promoter Ruben Cordero. “I’d say about twenty percent of the audience are first timers, the other eighty percent are there because they love to experience the kitsch craziness of Mexican wrestling.”

And kitsch it certainly is. The average night of lucha libre always involves men in shiny spandex trousers and masks going at each other mano a mano. The good guys are known as tecnicos(technical), wrestlers who abide by the rules, do the most dangerous acrobatic stunts and tend to have the most fervent fans. Their opponents are rudos (rule breakers) who opt for things like chairs and table legs to attack their opponents.

For working class Mexicans, lucha libre has offered them a brief respite from the poverty and corruption that so often surrounds them. Each week they see virtue triumph over evil, corrupt rule-breaking wrestlers receive their comeuppance from their moral heroes.

Then of course there are the midget wrestlers and the exoticos, transvestites like Cassandra, who add an unmistakable element of carnival madness to an already unorthodox form of entertainment.

Despite Mexico’s staunchly Catholic population, homosexuality in lucha libre has been tolerated ever since Cassandra, already a professional luchadore at the time, came out of the closet in 1989 and began wrestling in makeup.

“I had to break a lot of taboos and face a lot of rejection, even from wrestlers who knew I was gay,” he recalled. “But I was never vulgar with my moves. I had to show my fans that I was just as good a wrestler as anybody else. Now it is very open-minded.”

But one thing that has never changed in lucha libre is the importance of the masks. For all wrestlers (other than exoticos) a luchadors’ mask is his very essence and many wrestlers religiously wear their masks even in the real world.

“When we first went to Mexico to see if any wrestlers would come over to England we ended up having meetings in boardrooms with people who would wear smart suits and face masks,” said Wood. “It was very surreal.”

The only times a wrestler is de-masked is either when he nears retirement and wishes to show fans who he really is, or during much-anticipated grudge matches where both opponents bet their masks with the loser having to reveal his true identity.

The sport’s most famous wrestler, Santo, had a career that spanned five decades and was quite possibly the most famous Mexican of his era before his death in 1984. His son, El Hijo Del Santo, is equally famous and is the star attraction on this weekend’s billing.

“For me lucha libre is something that has no boundaries and can easily cross language barriers or different cultures,” he said following a brief spa with his arch nemesis, Blue Demon Jnr. “The British public are a great audience, they become very passionate when they see us and I like that.”

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week